By RYAN O’MALLEY
Entertainment Editor, SNSPost
Rufus Wainwright is many things to many people. A great composer, a unique and superb vocalist, a flamboyant and eccentric stage performer, all would be accurate ways to describe the Canadian-raised New Yorker. And with his newest album, for those that didn’t already consider him so, you can now add extraordinary pianist to the list, for it is with All Days Are Nights: Songs for Lulu that we finally get an uninterrupted performance from Wainwright and his piano. Foregoing the rock band, strings, back-up vocalists, horns or even acoustic guitar of his previous albums, Songs for Lulu gives Wainwright the opportunity to stretch his classical chops all by his lonesome. Just a man and his piano, baring his soul and really giving a taste of what is going on inside his twisted and torn mind…while also showing off a bit. Because really, would it be a Rufus album if it didn’t go over the top at least once or twice?
No stranger to the overly dramatic opener, “Who Are You New York?” picks up right where you remember Rufus leaving off, but even still you right away notice that something is different, but what? “Sad With What I Have” provides a little more of a hint, but it’s “Martha” that really unveils what it is. This is raw Rufus. This is a man who, while still battling some of the demons in his mind, is starting to make peace with it all. A series of messages to his sister transcripted over light and, at times, troubling piano, Martha bares the truth of the moment and the past, with Rufus attempting to reassemble a dissolved family before it’s too late. It’s made all the more poignant for the fact Kate McGarrigle, his mother, recently lost her battle with cancer.
But just as the final notes fade, so does a bit of the sentiment and you get slapped upside the head with the aforementioned flamboyant and eccentric Rufus. To call “Give Me What I Want, And Give It To Me Now!” theatrical would be fitting, setting the scene of Wainwright stomping around a stage in a monologue rant and not forgetting the essential dance break. Kind of timely actually, for the fact that he also recently wrote an entire opera, Prima Donna. But again with the back-and-forth of his album (mind), he again shows his vulnerability with the sorrowful ballad “True Love.”
The trio of sonnets—43, 20 & 10 in order of appearance—midway through add a sweet loveliness (if I may use those two words together) and increasingly so as they go along. Featuring Shakespearean lyrics, you can actually hear a touch of similarity to their writing styles. In fact, if you didn’t know better (who’s saying I didn’t? stop judging me!), you might not even catch this till it’s told to you.
“The Dream” and “What Would I Ever Do with a Rose” play off of each other’s loved and lost theme and again display his virtuosity on the piano, the former stretching the entire keyboard with bouncing triads and running triplets, and the latter light and airy emphasizing the understanding he’s come to with love. And wait, is that…yup, I thought we might get a French tune, and there you are “Les Feux D’Artifice T’Appellent” in all your French-Canadian glory. I jest really, but not speaking French and all (I told you to stop judging me!) and the musical elements not being the most original for Rufus, it’s not my favorite, but it does have a certain je ne sais quo. “Zebulon” closes Songs for Lulu, and just to let you know that this is a story to be continued, it introduces a new character, one that even Rufus is surprised to have on his mind.
So here we are. The end of Rufus Wainwright’s first entirely solo album. How’d ya like it? I’m not really sure myself. Having an affinity for the piano, to not only have it be a (the) primary focus and to hear just how good Rufus is with it is a giant bonus. But on the other hand, having a full band behind him to give a respite from lyrics that can weigh heavily after a while might not be such a bad thing either. So, this isn’t my favorite Rufus album, but I tell you what, I would gladly put this on before others. It does do well start to finish—that “listenability” thing—and it is definitely something new, which is encouraging when some have wondered what else he has in the tank. If you are a Rufus lover, you probably already own this out of devotion, but if you’re new to him, this wouldn’t be my recommendation for an introductory album. For that, I will always have to go with Poses, but there’s no problem with Songs for Lulu as a second or third.